Cate McConville is a successful doctor in Sydney. She’s young, attractive and very angry. She’s angry at her parents and her past. She’s angry at the town she came from. She’s even angry at her brother, who disappeared without a trace many years ago and whose disappearance was the nail the coffin of her family relationships, causing her to leave the small town life and not look back.
In Entitlement, Cate reluctantly returns to the family station on leave from her job. Her parents want to sell up and start their well-earned retirement. They are exhausted from a lifetime of cattle work and Cate’s father Blake has a multitude of health problems that are deteriorating quickly under the daily strain of managing the station.
Eliot’s disappearance sparked a long term estrangement between Cate and her parents and she has not spoken to her father since she left. Returning home to Tumbin, nothing has changed and nothing has improved. Cate is bitter and rude to the people around her. She cannot stand to be there but she must to try and persuade her parents that there is another way out aside from sale.
Cate, however, does not want to sell. Her beloved brother Eliot disappeared without explanation eight years ago and though her parents have given him up for dead, Cate refuses to accept that he is gone. She spends her nights searching the internet for any sign of him and when she returns to the station she is haunted by visions of Eliot and moments of their childhood. Cate cannot agree to the sale of the station, because there needs to be a home for Eliot when he returns to them.
Cate is not an easy character to appreciate. As much as you try to understand her anger and single-minded determination to find her missing brother, it is hard to like her and her inability to move on or forgive. Perhaps a reader who has been in a similar situation of having someone disappear or jointly loving and loathing the place and the people you come from will appreciate her anger and sense of loss.
On the flip side of Cate’s family drama are the life stories of Mellor and his extended family. Mellor’s family have almost nothing and the things most precious to them – their children – were routinely abducted to the missions. Cate’s father puts up with Mellor but cannot stand any of the other ‘blacks’ to be around his property or his family. Having grown up with Aboriginal children and loving Aunties who gave her affection when neither of her parents could, her father’s racism is another thorn in Cate and Blake’s relationship.
Interspersed with Cate’s story are flashes of her life in Sydney and a man named Finch, who also has connections with Cate’s hometown and may just be the man to rescue her from her loneliness. At first, these flashbacks were a little confusing and it takes a while to piece together the character relationships in Sydney and in Tumbin. The novel quickly deepens and moves to dark, sad places with people who are disappointed with life and battered by loss.
Entitlement deals with very heavy issues; the pressure to follow in family footsteps, particularly for farming children; racism and the stolen generation. This is a story about family and the ties that bind. It is a story about children who go missing, by their own choice or someone else’s and the effect that has on the parents and siblings left behind. It is also about identity and belonging, the loss of both and how long it takes to mend when you cannot let go of the past.
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